The genetic ancestry of French grapevines is revealed in a paper published online this week in Nature Plants. The research indicates that some grape varieties cultivated hundreds of years ago are still in use today.
The European grapevine (Vitis vinifera) was first domesticated 6,000 years ago and is often cultivated through cloning, which allows for the lineage of vines to be traced as far back as seeds are available. Historical records indicate grapevines were introduced to France by the Greeks in the sixth century BCE but it was not until the first century BCE, and the Roman occupation, that wine production spread across most of southern France. Thousands of varieties of grape have been recorded or identified through written records, but it has been difficult to link modern day varieties to their historic ancestors.
Nathan Wales and colleagues analyzed the genomes of 28 seeds from nine archaeological sites in France, dating from the Medieval period, the Roman era and as far back as the Iron Age (510-475 BCE). They find that all of the samples were from domesticated varieties rather than wild grapevines, and all samples were closely related to varieties used for wine production today. The authors identified one sample, dated to between 1050-1200 CE, which was a genetically identical to today’s ‘Savagnin Blanc’, indicating that this variety has been cultivated in France for nearly 900 years.